Peter Straker’s arrived in Edinburgh ladies and gentlemen. Prepare to be entertained, seduced and electrified by an artist whose career has spanned over fifty years. Straker shot to fame after his performance in the original production of Hair on Broadway in ’68 and since then he’s performed in numerous musicals, appeared in TV shows such as Doctor Who and has worked with Freddie Mercury. Black Magic is a night of impassioned and theatrical renditions of big band rock and particularly glam rock songs enthused with humour, chocolates and just a little bit of magic.
Straker enters the stage in style, coming through the audience and singing his heart out. His fantastic rendition of Sympathy for the Devil sets the tone for the evening. It’s a fun, powerful and theatrical version accompanied brilliantly by the band. When the song reaches its climax, and Straker asks one last time, ‘What’s my name?’ the band whisper ‘Straker’ and the lights flicker. The theatrical antics continue with a powerhouse performance of I Put a Spell on You that echoes Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ original studio recording and is sung intimately, focused on one person Straker picks out in the audience. Later he conducts the audience in a joint rendition of the (Day-o) Banana Boat Song, gives out chocolates and even does a little bit of magic. Straker also performs some of his own songs and of course Queen’s ‘It’s a kind of Magic’. The five piece band are also fantastic, accompanying Straker with panache and a little theatrical flair of their own.
Straker oozes style, echoing greats like Tom Jones, Freddie Mercury and even Jagger and Bowie. He runs round the stage, gyrates his hips, jumps around and sings in a beautiful tenor tone. The theatricality of the night is enhanced greatly by the fantastic lighting design as well as Straker’s unique little touches to proceedings. He engages with almost everyone in the audience making the performance feel intimate and even a little special. Or maybe we should say, magical.
Still here? Peter Straker sure can say that again. He’s really gone and done it this time: the best hour’s cabaret he’s ever delivered, and in the festival’s best new venue.
The Ghillie Dhu is a newly converted chapel right next to the Caledonian Hotel, with a big, buzzy bar and a superb cabaret space in its vaulted upper regions.
Straker’s show, directed as usual by Mel Smith comes with a five-piece band led by Warren Wills at the piano and an added bonus of that great revue and Joan Littlewood veteran, Toni Palmer.
The main man’s on fire, singing an incredible range of stuff from “Moon River” to “MacArthur Park” (yes, it’s funny and ridiculous), Harry Belafonte, Alan Price, Queen, Mika, Simon and Garfunkel, Jaques Brel, Randy Newman and Peter Gabriel.
If you’ve seen Straker before, you’ll want to go again. If you haven’t, do yourself a big favour, and just go.
‘I am not Jacques Brel,’ Peter Straker playfully reminds the audience after his first song. However, with Straker’s theatricality and a stage set up as Brel’s dressing room, complete with assorted bottles of alcohol, one would be forgiven for forgetting that he was not the Belgian songwriter responsible for the wonderful music on display.
Over the course of the performance, Straker is highlighting more than just Brel’s music. Empty time at the show’s beginning and between each song is filled with real footage and biographical information about the enchanting chanteur. Fleeting moments spent pretending to put on make-up in the on stage mirror or quoting Brel at his most philosophical elevate the show above being simply a concert or showcase. Combined with Straker’s masterful performance of translated classics, such as ‘Amersterdam’ and ‘Mathilde,’ Brel’s life and music are linked to seemingly raise the man from the dead.
A long standing veteran of the West End stage, Straker’s penchant for performing is well known and admired. Those expecting a complete performance from the Jamaican singer will be more than satisfied as he covers a range of material from Brel’s most energetic and passionate songs to his more tender. His backing band is small – a bass, piano, and guitar – but they do an excellent job of striking the right balance between showing off Brel’s ability as a composer and letting Straker show his ability as a singer.
Through Straker we are reminded that Brel’s music was inspired by his love of home, his love of drink, his fear of death and more, giving the familiar material a personality and vivacity which, for many of us, has long faded. Straker’s impressive performance reminds us of the man behind the well-known music. For fans of Brel, fans of Straker, and fans of music this show should not be missed.
Peter Straker delivers an outstanding performance in this hour long tribute to singer-songwriter Jacques Brel. The show is not merely a celebration of the works of Brel but rather a celebration of Straker’s life-long love affair with the music of the Belgian star. Straker first came to fame as Hud in the 1968 London production of Hair and he has gone on to release albums and appear on stage and screen over the last forty five years. Brel’s music has played a big part in Straker’s career, perhaps most notably his rendition of ‘Jackie’ released on his 1977 album This One’s On Me.
Straker is a fantastic showman and he switches effortlessly between the different styles throughout Brel’s extensive catalogue. The camp theatricality of songs such as Madame and Amsterdam are performed with such gusto and infectious energy that it’s an incredible transformation when Straker turns his masterful voice to ballads such as ‘Flatlands‘ or his breath-taking encore rendition of ‘If We Only Have Love’.
The songs are linked together by projections, props and various costume changes courtesy of legendary costume designer Sue Blane. There is a loose narrative throughout where Straker gives us brief glimpses into the life behind the legend informing us of Brel’s penchant for women, alcohol and cigarettes which cleverly brings together each song.
If you’re looking for a biographical exploration of the life and works of Jacques Brel this show will perhaps not tick all your boxes. However if you’re looking for a fantastic hour of entertainment safe in the hands of a performer who seriously knows how to put on a show you will be in your element. This is a real Fringe highlight – don’t miss it!
I’d seen some great reviews for Peter Straker’s cabaret shows in past Fringes, but the only thing I’d ever seen him in was the TV series Connie in the mid-’80s, so I thought it was time to catch up with his show.
Straker pays tribute to the work of Jacques Brel and, to some extent, to his life, but this isn’t a biographical piece; it is all about the music. After an overture, a film clip of Brel talking on a big screen and the song “Brussels”, Straker tells us, “I’m not Jacques Brel, but if I were, just for an hour, what would I dream?”.
What follows is a sequence of anecdotes about the singer’s life with appropriate songs attached to them and some of Brel’s uniquely French philosophy from his own lips in film clips. It’s all perfectly and smoothly integrated together.
The track listing is nicely varied in tone and subject matter, inevitably including the most famous “Jacky” plus “Amsterdam”, “Madame”, “Next”, “If You Go Away” and many more.
These songs require a big, theatrical interpretation to get the most out of them, and that’s exactly what they get from Straker’s energetic performance that could fill a room twice this size. It’s exciting, invigorating and life-affirming.
I didn’t buy a programme (a pound for a programme on the Fringe?) but I did buy a CD coming out so I could take a little piece of this show with me.
While most of Edinburgh was watching Chris Hoy bring in his Olympic Gold, I was with about a hundred and twenty people in the company of Straker to witness a masterclass in performance.
This mixed media piece takes us into the world of Brel’s dreams – dreams defined as a desire to achieve and Brel’s belief that the dream is talent. Projections are woven throughout the piece – footage of Brel in interview and performance and landscapes evoking the Belgium he loved so very deeply.
Straker never takes an audience for granted: he woos them and wins them with his extraordinary talent. His connection with lyric and assured delivery of every syllable and every note are peerless. His rendition of ‘Amsterdam’ is nothing less than definitive – precision teamed with a passion that gives way to abandon.
The finale of Brel’s translation of ‘The Impossible Dream’ is profoundly moving.
The onstage trio of musicians never falter in this exquisite hour – go see – learn how the master does it so well.